While chronic headaches in teens may be blamed on typical teen activities like playing video games or listening to loud music, there may be another less obvious culprit — chewing gum.
In a recent study where adolescents were asked to stop chewing gum, the researchers found that more than half of the teens stopped experiencing headaches.
These researchers noted that doctors and patients should be aware of the potential relationship between excessive gum chewing and headaches.
This study was led by Nathan Watemberg, MD, in the Child Neurology Unit and Child Development Center at Meir Medical Center at Tel Aviv University in Israel. The research team studied the effects of excessive gum-chewing in adolescents who experienced chronic headaches.
Children were recruited from the Meir Medical Center headache clinic and community clinics. Dr. Watemberg and team analyzed data from a group of 30 children between the ages of 6 and 19 who reported chronic headaches and chewing gum daily.
These children were split into four groups based on their gum chewing habits: up to one hour of gum-chewing a day, 1-3 hours of gum-chewing a day, 3-6 hours of gum-chewing a day and more than 6 hours of gum-chewing a day.
The participants completed a survey reporting their medical history, headache characteristics (migraines or tension-type headaches), previous diagnoses and potential causes of their headaches.
The children were instructed to stop chewing gum for one month, and were then interviewed by a researcher to record the effects it had on their headaches. The responses included: no change in headache frequency or intensity, partial improvement or total disappearance of symptoms.
After this, the children were asked to resume chewing gum for two weeks as they had done before the study began. They were interviewed again by a researcher to record whether their headache symptoms returned, and, if so, the amount of time between when they started chewing gum again and the reoccurrence of their headaches.
The researchers found that after they stopped chewing gum, 26 out of the 30 children reported significant improvement in their headaches, and 19 reported that their headaches disappeared.
All of the six children in Group 1 (less than an hour of gum chewing/day) reported partial or total improvement in their headaches.
Among those in Group 2, 10 out of the 11 children reported partial or total improvement in their headaches.
Among Group 3, six out of the eight children reported improvements in their headaches, and four out of five children in Group 4 reported improvements in their headaches.
All of the 20 children asked to resume gum-chewing reported that their headaches returned within a week.
The authors of this study noted that overuse of the temporomandibular joint, which helps the lower jaw to move and function, may be the cause of the headaches. They also suggested that aspartame, a low-calorie sweetener, may be another potential cause, but the evidence of this is unclear.
These authors concluded that larger, long-term studies are needed to confirm their findings that excessive gum-chewing may be connected to migraines in adolescents.
This study was published in Pediatric Neurology.
The authors reported no competing interests.